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St Elsewhere

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While overcrowding and understaffing cause Boston public hospital St Eligus to be viewed as a place of last resort, ‘St Elsewhere’ (as the hospital was known) hung together by virtue of its strong, dedicated staff of professionals.

The series was often aptly compared to Hill Street Blues, which had debuted a season and a half earlier.

stelsewhere4Both shows were made by the independent production company MTM Enterprises, and both presented a large ensemble cast, a “realistic” visual style, a profusion of interlocking stories, and an aggressive tendency to break traditional generic rules.

St. Elsewhere was one of the most-acclaimed of the upscale serial dramas to appear in the 1980s. Along with shows like Hill Street BluesL.A. Law, and ThirtysomethingSt. Elsewhere was a result of the demographically-conscious programming strategies that had gripped the networks during the years when cable TV was experiencing spectacular growth.

Often earning comparatively low ratings, these shows were kept on the air because they delivered highly desirable audiences consisting of young, affluent viewers whom advertisers were anxious to reach. In spite of its never earning a seasonal ranking above 49th place out of about 100 shows, St. Elsewhere aired for six full seasons on NBC from 1982-88 and the series was nominated for 63 Emmy Awards (it won 13).

While earlier medical dramas like Dr. KildareBen Casey, and Marcus Welby MD featured god-like doctors healing grateful patients, the staff of Boston’s St. Eligius Hospital exhibited a variety of personal problems and their patients often failed to recover.

Regulars on the show included Mark Harmon (whose character died of AIDS in 1985), Howie Mandel (who had worked as a carpet salesman before turning to acting) as Fiscus, William Daniels as the hard-nosed surgeon Dr Mark Craig, and Ed Begley Jnr as Dr Victor Erlich.

Six years before NYPD Blue began introducing nudity to network television, St. Elsewhere had shown the naked backside of a doctor (Ed Flanders) who’d dropped his trousers in front of his supervisor (Ronny Cox) before leaving the hospital and the show. It was also not uncommon for principal characters to die unexpectedly – which happened on no fewer than five occasions during the run of the series.

As a medical drama, St. Elsewhere dealt with serious issues of life and death, but every episode also included a substantial amount of comedy. The show was especially noted for its abundance of “in jokes” that made reference to the show’s own ancestry.

In one episode, for example, an amnesia patient comes to believe that he is Mary Richards from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, MTM Enterprises’ first production. Throughout the episode the patient makes oblique references to MTM’s entire programme history.

Later, in the series’ final episode, a scene from the last instalment of The Mary Tyler Moore Show is restaged, and the cat that had appeared on the production logo at the end of every MTM show for eighteen years, dies as the final credits roll.

St. Elsewhere proved to be a fertile training ground for many of its participants. At the start of the 1992-93 season, creators John Falsey and Joshua Brand had a critically-acclaimed series on each of the three major networks: Northern Exposure (CBS), I’ll Fly Away (NBC), and Going to Extremes (ABC).

Writer-producer Tom Fontana became the executive producer of Homicide: Life on the Street with Baltimore-based film director Barry Levinson. Other St. Elsewhere producers and writers went on to work on such respected series as MoonlightingChina BeachL.A. LawNYPD BlueER, and Chicago Hope.

Actor Denzel Washington, virtually unknown when he began his role as Dr. Philip Chandler, had become a major star of feature films by the time St. Elsewhere ended its run.

St. Elsewhere also exerted a significant creative influence on ER, the hit medical series that debuted on NBC in 1994. While the pacing of ER was much faster, both the spirit of the show and many of its story ideas were borrowed from St. Elsewhere.

Dr. Donald Westphall
Ed Flanders
Dr. Mark Craig

William Daniels
Dr. Ben Samuels

David Birney
Dr. Victor Ehrlich

Ed Begley, Jr.
Dr. Jack Morrison 

David Morse
Dr. Annie Cavanero

Cynthia Sikes
Dr. Wayne Fiscus 

Howie Mandel
Dr. Cathy Martin

Barbara Whinnery
Dr. Peter White 

Terence Knox
Dr. Hugh Beale

G.W. Bailey
Nurse Helen Rosenthal 

Christina Pickles
Dr. Phillip Chandler 

Denzel Washington
Dr. V. J. Kochar

Kavi Raz
D. Wendy Armstrong

Kim Miyori
Dr. Daniel Auschlander 

Norman Lloyd
Nurse Shirley Daniels

Ellen Bry
Luther Hawkins

Eric Laneuville
Joan Halloran

Nancy Stafford
Dr. Robert Caldwell

Mark Harmon
Dr. Michael Ridley

Paul Sand
Mrs. Ellen Craig

Bonnie Bartlett
Dr. Elliot Axelrod 

Stephen Furst
Nurse Lucy Papandrao

Jennifer Savidge
Dr. Jaqueline Wade 

Sagan Lewis
Warren Coolidge

Byron Stewart
Dr. Emily Humes

Judith Hansen
Dr. Alan Poe

Brian Tochi
Nurse Peggy Shotwell

Saundra Sharp
Mrs. Hufnagel 

Florence Halop
Dr. Roxanne Turner

Alfre Woodard
Ken Valere

George Deloy
Terri Valere

Deborah May
Dr. Seth Griffin

Bruce Greenwood
Dr. Paulette Kiem

France Nuyen
Dr. Carol Novino

Cindy Pickett
Dr. John Gideon

Ronny Cox